I get increasingly sick of today’s “influencers” - mostly fly-by-night narcissists angling for sponsorship and self-promotion.
But there are real Kiwi influencers out there on the music scene, commentators who are thoughtful, engaging and widely knowledgeable, who have been sharing sounds and opinions for years, enriching lives along the way.
They have mine. Only last week, a radio review led to jazz guitarist Pasquale Grasso. Many thanks!
I’ve previously mentioned Graham Reid, long-time writer for The Herald, The Listener and his own remarkably broad website, Elsewhere. Then there’s Nick Bollinger, currently on sabbatical from his National Radio programme, The Sampler, to write another book. And of course Marty Duda, who runs the Thirteenth Floor website and seems to have seen every band in the world.
At the top of that tree is William Dart, whose programme New Horizons on Radio NZ Concert last year celebrated 40 years on air.
As someone struggling to keep up with a limited range of music, what blows me away is that he has over that time covered pretty much every style of music, from in-depth critiques of orchestra performances, to jazz, to classic rock, folk, soul... you name it.
Recent episodes of New Horizons have featured Merk, Elvis Costello, The Kinks and Lorde. One programme runs from Joni Mitchell to Scottish singer Alasdair Roberts and the Norwegian band Völvur.
It started with ten pilot shows in 1980 - a venture so prestigious at the time that it merited a Listener cover. These days in lockdown, William’s recording voice tracks in the basement and sending them and the music files to his producer of two decades, Tim Dodd, to assemble.
That first run was a “try-out”, the ten programmes focusing on specific artists or styles, including Lou Reed and (40 years earlier!) Joni Mitchell. One session looked at newish punk music, dodging possibly offensive lyrics, which was tricky in those cleaner times: “I remember playing Nick Lowe’s Marie Prevost,” says William, “with its line ‘she was a winner who became a doggie’s dinner’ and seeing producer Pat Towsey sighing with horror through the soundproof window.”
William Dart actually has strong Bay Of Plenty connections. He grew up in Whakatāne and was Dux of the High School. He learnt piano, and eventually left Auckland University with a BMus, MMus and finally a PhD, a musicological one, studying the English art songs of Hubert Parry and Cyril Scott.
His two main jobs have been music teaching at Pakuranga’s Edgewater College and lecturing in Waikato University’s music department.
“In the 1980s I was a reasonably active theatre composer. In 1981 we had a national tour of Songs to the Judges, which I had written with playwright Mervyn Thompson, based on the government’s often shocking treatment of Māori, especially in terms of land issues. In 1982 we toured Give Us a Kiss, which was a cabaret-style show around gay rights.”
Since 1982 he has also edited the visual arts magazine Art New Zealand, and between 1988 and 2004 produced a music quarterly, Music in New Zealand, with a unique mix of pop, rock, jazz and classical musics.
William says that he has always had a personal policy of keeping a healthy NZ quota in his programmes - it usually works out at about a third.
“I did a number of programmes based around interviews with admired musicians and people in the music business. These included Chris Knox, Roger Shepherd of Flying Nun, Murray Cammick, the then editor of Rip it Up, Martin Phillips, Shona Laing and Dudley Benson.
“In the last two years I’ve devoted programmes to Charlotte Yates’ Mansfield project, Bill Direen, Mali Mali, Goodshirt, Caitlin Smith, Jonathan Bree, Harper Finn, Anna Coddington and Troy Kingi.”
So check out New Horizons. The next one is on Sunday (November 7) at 5pm. The theme is Happy (Kiwi) music and includes Graham Candy, The Chills, Anna Coddington’s te reo EP and Robin Nathan’s new children’s album under the name FleaBITE, “Snakes Alive”.
That will run through until Sunday, November 14 and, like all of the shows, it can be found on the RNZ New Horizons website. Allow yourself to be influenced – you won’t regret it.